There is a reason fantasy sports leagues are so popular. The opportunity for average joe sports fans to manage a roster of high-profile athletes is as close to being a professional team’s general manager as you can get without being on the boss himself. Pulling the trigger on that blockbuster deal to rocket your team up the standings and into the winner’s circle becomes the envy of anyone who partakes in the world of fantasy sports.
In the real life world of hockey transactions, NHL trade deadline day is the most active day on the calendar. If a fantasy hockey team owner could insert themselves into an NHL management role on any day of the year, this is it. However, there is no real deterrent to making rash decisions when the downside is losing your hockey pool. After all, trades are exciting. Thankfully for Winnipeg Jets fans, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a more cerebral approach to the science of conducting trade deadline deals.
“Mortgaging the future for uncertainty on deadline day has been the downfall for a lot of teams,” says Cheveldayoff. “If you look at a lot of teams that have won the Stanley Cup over the last several years, there are not a lot of cases where you can point to that big blockbuster deal that has put them over the top. Teams that spend it all and go for broke – generally that is a desperation move as opposed to a calculated move.”
Sometimes the best move on trade deadline day (and the weeks leading up to it) is to not make a move. Regardless of whether or not the Jets make any trades on or before Feb. 27, Cheveldayoff has a plan as to how things will unfold for his club on that final day.
“Our management, our professional scouts and our heads of amateur scouting will assemble in our meeting space at MTS Centre and we will conduct business from there,” says Cheveldayoff. “A lot of the business (communicating with other teams, scouring scouting reports on various players) is done via phone calls, texting and email. Generally speaking, even if there are no trades there are roster moves that have to be made due to the fact that this is the last day to do so.”
By name, the trade deadline obviously signals the end of the period in which NHL clubs can make transactions with one another. What is not as widely known is that after the deadline the NHL also imposes stricter rules for roster movements between NHL clubs and their AHL affiliates.
“You are only allowed to make four player call-ups from your AHL club after the deadline all the way until your team is out of the playoffs,” says Cheveldayoff. “The only exception is under emergency circumstances, such as if you have enough injuries. There is a definite tightening up of NHL-AHL roster movement from that point forward.”
If an enticing trade becomes available to Cheveldayoff and his staff, a rapid chain of events is set off beginning in their meeting room in the MTS Centre, culminating in it being made official to the general public a short time later.
“A deal is generally consummated over a phone call,” says Cheveldayoff. “It’s a gentlemen’s game between GM’s, with a great deal of trust involved. If I pick up the phone and I say to another GM ‘the deal is done’ then the deal is done, essentially. It can literally be a last-minute call right before the actual deadline time. At that point both parties get on a trade call with the NHL and verify all conditions of the deal (ensuring there is salary room available on the teams involved, any draft picks that are part of the deal are available), and some paperwork is completed. That is why when you watch coverage of the trade deadline, many deals will continue to roll in after the cut-off point.”
Since there are so many variables at work when it comes to trading at the professional sports level, for the right trade opportunity to become available on deadline day many criteria must be met.
“Just because you are a buyer doesn’t mean there is a fit for your organization,” says Cheveldayoff. “The right player with the right contract may not be available. Conversely, if you are a seller you may not be able to move a player for what you deem valuable. Sometimes you’ll be in talks with a GM about a certain player well before the deadline, and as the date gets closer the price changes for better or worse. It is a supply and demand market.”
Players have a different experience during the trade deadline. For many, deadline day is a time of uncertainty which can leave players pondering the ramifications of picking up and moving to a new city, and joining a new team with only a sliver of the season left. Andrew Ladd
is one of several Jets who have been dealt at the deadline, and he remembers his 2008 trade from Carolina to Chicago being bittersweet.
“I didn’t think I was going to get traded,” says Ladd. “It’s an interesting day and it can be exciting for fans, but as a player it can catch you by surprise if you are traded. (Carolina) had a game that night, and after the pregame meal I was called into the coach’s office and told I was going to Chicago. I was on a plane within a couple of hours, and playing in Chicago the next day. It was a whirlwind. Things change pretty quickly.”
Such is the nature of the business for professional athletes, but they quickly learn to put things into perspective when it comes to moving from one team to another.
“There are two sides of it,” says Ladd. “Anytime you’re traded it means a team wants you, and usually it means there will be an opportunity for you to find new life in a new setting. There are lots of good things that can come of it. On the other hand it is tough to leave teammates you have had a close bond with, but the hockey world is small, and usually you know a few guys on each team so the transition isn’t as tough as it may seem.”